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Filling the Ice House

1934 Harry Gottlieb Born: Bucharest, Romania 1895 Died: New York, New York 1992 oil on canvas 40 3/8 x 60 3/8 in. (102.5 x 153.4 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor 1964.1.19 Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

As workers like these knew well, it was cold, hard work filling the icehouses of upstate New York. In January 1934, artist Harry Gottlieb signed on with the PWAP and looked for American workers he could paint near his home in the artists' colony of Woodstock, New York. He found these men harvesting ice off lakes and streams as local men had done every winter since the early 1800s. They sawed the thick layer of natural ice into long strips and then cut off large blocks. As Gottlieb's painting shows, the red-faced workers dressed in warm coats used long hooks and wooden ramps to maneuver the slick, heavy ice into large commercial icehouses where they neatly stacked the blocks. Straw or sawdust packing minimized melting in warm weather. Throughout the year icehouses along the Hudson River stored ice that was shipped by train to New York City. Families and grocers put the ice into insulated iceboxes that kept food from spoiling. Artificial freezing dominated ice production after World War I, and then electric refrigerators became popular. When Gottlieb documented the natural ice business it was gradually melting away.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label


Figure group - male

Figure(s) in interior - industry

Occupation - industry - ice cutting

New Deal - Public Works of Art Project - New York State


paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About Harry Gottlieb

Born: Bucharest, Romania 1895 Died: New York, New York 1992

More works in the collection by
Harry Gottlieb